Today, they are just numbers on a page. But if they don't go up dramatically, and soon, King County isn't going to meet the goals of its 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness.
The plan, which was adopted in 2005, calls for creating or acquiring roughly 950 units of low to no income housing units by 2015. But a recent housing "Dashboard Report" distributed to the city and county officials who make up the Committee to End Homelessness shows that goal won't be met any time soon.
In 2007, the data shows that county, city, and nonprofit agencies are expected to build or buy a total of 526 housing units for the homeless, 212 of which were completed or rentable as of June 30. In 2008, the number of units shown in the pipeline is 541 units, but only 128 in 2009 and 220 in 2010.
All the numbers are a long way from the goal, but Bill Block, project director for the Committee to End Homelessness (CEH), says that's to be expected because the plan assumed less production up front and more later. But he and the officials on the CEH, which has recently formed a subcommittee to look at how to step up production, see they're not getting there fast enough.
King County isn't alone, says Ben Gitenstein, executive director of the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, a Seattle-based coalition of housing providers and funders that lobbies the Legislature for more resources. "Every 10-Year Plan community [in the state] reports being in real trouble of actually being able to hit the goals because it costs so much to do this," Gitenstein says. "I don't think it's surprising that we're not making the kind of progress we need to."
To get there, he says, housing advocates need to figure out three things: how to reduce the total cost of developing permanent supportive housing units (which include services), increase money for building units and vouchers for rentals, and figure out a way to reduce need by maintaining enough low-income housing for people on the edge.
The alliance and CEH are aligned on the first two points, which are part of a state legislative agenda that a number of housing advocacy groups are working on this year. One item calls for the state to waive sales tax on the labor and materials that go into building units for the homeless. "That right there could be a 3 to 6 percent savings on the cost of production," Gitenstein says.
Some CEH members, however, have said they would not support a state bill to limit the number of apartments that can be converted to condominiums. CEH member and Seattle City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen is seeking action on that bill next year.
The constant conversions and teardowns of affordable units makes the 10-Year Plan's pipeline count of future housing a bit ridiculous, says Bill Kirlin-Hackett, co-chair of Seattle's Interfaith Task Force, because they aren't reflected in the numbers.
"You can't look at what we're creating unless you look at what's being lost. It doesn't stand alone," Kirlin-Hackett says. "The problem I have with the Dashboard Report is it's trying to give [the CEH] a status report but it's ignoring the status. It's like a map where they just put lines on it without the street names. It's not reality."
But Block and Seattle Office of Housing deputy director Bill Rumpf say there are definitely more resources overall going into housing the homeless than ever before, including $7 million this year from the county's recent Veterans and Human Services Levy, $25 million that United Way is raising privately to build 1,000 units, an increased Housing Trust Fund, and new money that the Legislature created by raising document recording fees.
"There were about 2,500 units that were serving the homeless before the 10-Year Plan and it took 20 years to get there," Rumpf says. "The rate was 125 to 150 units a year that our community was producing. From 2005 to now, the rate is two or three times that..... But to get to 950, we'd have to increase the pace."